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Cynopsis Kids, 2/27/12

Video Description and Community Engagement

Excerpts screening reel

  1. Dino Dan, Sinking Ship Entertainment, Nick Jr.
  2. Biz Kid$, APT
  3. Electric Company, Sesame Workshop, PBS Kids
  4. Ocean Mysteries, Litton Entertainment, ABC
  5. Bas Rutten/Workout, Cartoon Network, CN
  6. Super Why, Out of the Blue, PBS Kids
  7. To Kill a Mockingbird, Universal, DCMP (School)
  8. ReelAbilities Film Festival, 2012

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Good morning. It's Monday, February 27, 2012, and this your first early morning briefing.

Answering a few of our questions this week is Matthew Kaplowitz, Founding Partner and Director of Technology and Content Innovation, Bridge Multimedia. Maybe you've heard of Bridge Multimedia ( ) but if not, the company is on a mission to make media accessible to all people with sensory, mobility, and cognitive disabilities and to increase inclusion through accessible media and supplementary content. He is also President of Onomatopoeia, Inc, a digital media and sound design company. Kaplowitz, in association with Scholastic Education and Apple, he was part of the technology group that formulated the audio standards for compressed media that remain in use today. He also worked in association with Broadway Television Network, as a member of U.S. State Department's delegation representing the US in establishing technical global standards for high definition television. Kaplowitz sits on a number of boards and believe me when I tell you he is passionate about what he does and wants to achieve and is remarkably approachable and helpful.

Matt can you explain how audio description works. It sounds like you use the spaces that already exist within the script of a series.

That's right, we add the narrated explanations of a program's important visual elements into the already existing pauses of the show's audio track. You can see and hear some description at:

How do you determine the difficulty of the vocabulary that is used in a particular show? For instance do you try to match the level that is already in the script?

We use the same vocabulary level that is being spoken in the specific program we're describing. We also take into account the style of the particular show, so that the writing style for the description matches the personality of the program. We want the description to feel like an extension of the show. Sometimes we even use kids to voice the audio description.

How do audiences (such as those who are blind/visually impaired or have learning differences) receive audio description? Via cable, Internet?

In the old analog days description was delivered over the Secondary Audio Programming channel. Remember the SAP channel? It was also used to broadcast some programs in Spanish. Now in the digital age, there is a specially designated audio channel for description and it's easily accessed through your set-up menu.

How large is the potential audience for this type of content?

+25% of the entire children's category are "specialized learners," including children on the autism spectrum, students with learning differences, English language learners, and vision/hearing impaired viewers. They all find value in audio description because it addresses vocabulary, curriculum standards, even social/emotional cues. Programmers are realizing that description is a powerful way to build co-viewing and reach "the other 25%" of the children's audience.

Do the show's producers or distributors normally approve the content you provide before the show is made available to consumers?

Yes. We work closely with the producers to make certain that our vision for the final outcome matches theirs. We often see the show's bible so we can ensure the audio description is consistent with the program's guidelines. Once they give us that bible we know we're answering to the highest authority. Throughout the year, we conduct scientifically-based focus group research with kids and parents to measure the efficacy of our description.

You received a 5-year U.S. Dept. of Education grant for video description is it specifically for kids shows?

Programming for kids preschool through high school, yes, although it's a wide range of children's television programming. The U.S. Dept. of ED has been visionary in recognizing the multiple audiences that can be served through video description. The grant covers all costs as long as the programming meets the E/I standards.

What kids shows have you provided audio descriptions for already and what is on the way?

We've done Dino Dan on Nick Jr. Biz Kid$, The Electric Company, and Super Why! on PBS. We've done anti-bullying, nutrition, and exercise PSAs for Cartoon Network, and Ocean Mysteries with Jeff Corwin for Litton Entertainment. We're going to be audio describing nearly the entire Weekend Adventure block of Litton programming, featured on ABC stations, which is exciting. That includes Jack Hanna's Wild Countdown, Born to Explore, Ocean Mysteries, Everyday Health, and Food for Thought. This fall, Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood on PBS, and more.

When you are creating audio descriptions specifically for kids, what else do you hope they experience beyond an understanding of what is on the screen?

Community engagement starts right here. So does co-viewing. Audio Description opens the door to taking a program's content to another level for both our specialized audience and the general audience, too. Take for instance Food for Thought, Litton's cooking show. The American Foundation for the Blind will be including transmedia on their website relating to cooking and kitchen skills for adults and kids with visual impairments 22 million people and spreading the word about Food for Thought.

Cartoon Network's recent anti-bullying campaign was expanded to include tip sheets about how to prevent bullying among students with vision and hearing impairments. The content was derived from the video descriptions in CN's Bullying Prevention programming and PSAs. Numerous national organizations picked up these specialized tip sheets which broadly displayed Cartoon Network's branding and they distributed widely to their constituents. 36 million adults and kids are deaf or hard of hearing.

The Dino Dan producers just released a line of dinosaur educational toys and we will be providing online tactile descriptions of these toys a first. The school will sign the purchase order for the product that meets the needs of all of its population. The Dino Dan descriptions are also being integrated into the DVD packaging; same for Biz Kid$.

We are also talking with Litton about re-purposing the audio description for Ocean Mysteries with Jeff Corwin, and utilizing it for a new exhibition at the Georgia Aquarium, where the program is filmed.

Finally, curriculum standards are a huge focus for teachers and parents. For every show we describe, we research and then align our descriptions with the national standards. We share with our program producers our curriculum standards research–science, math, financial literacy, language arts, problem solving, social skills, etc. Several shows are presently prepping this material for their website's teacher/parent page. Arming teachers with a TV show's curriculum standards can be the tipping point for a show to be integrated into the class curriculum.

How can a producer, distributor or network apply for audio description services for one of their programs or events?

Every program has different potentials for engagement among specialized audiences: multi-platforms, co-viewing, community outreach. And shows that are made available as DVD packages can only be purchased with federal dollars if they meet certain accessibility requirements (which include description). This is also an important part of what we are providing. Feel free to contact me ) or Linda Kahn, Bridge Multimedia's Director of Programming ).

You have a remarkable 12-page resume that features the breadth of your expertise in sound design, production and innovation in digital technology to provide greater accessibility to a variety of electronic media and multimedia entertainment. If you have any free time, and I suspect you might not, what do you enjoy doing?

Oh, every other weekend I'm deep sea diving with Corwin. I'm the one who scouts out the dangerous electric eels and mako sharks while he gets all the credit. Sadly, all my scenes have ended up on the cutting room floor!

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